TomChick - News - 03/25/06 - Link
I've never been to the Game Developers Conference before. But I can say that I'll never miss one again.
It was inspiring in a way that E3 simply isn't. E3 is about selling games, which doesn't interest me in the least. But GDC is about making games. It's the equivalent of listening to a commentary track on a DVD, but in person, and interactively, and in a room full of people who are often excited and deeply involved.
One drawback is the way so many sessions are scheduled over each other. If you were to tell me I would voluntarily miss not one, but two opportunities to see Soren Johnson talk about the process of creating Civilization IV, I would have told you that you were crazy. But there were just too many sessions and lectures and roundtables and panel discussions vying for my attention.
Even the relatively pedestrian ones could be fascinating. Imagine a lecture on the mechanics of designing a stealth level. Snore, right? But now imagine it is being given by Randy Smith, the guy from the Thief series who was the lead designer on the last game. It was a dry technical discussion, and I can imagine it would bore some people, but the whole time I was sitting there grinning like a fool at the fact that this was one of the pioneers of that kind of gameplay, dissecting his work in much the same way Ernest Hemingway might show someone his typewriter.
As a press guy who sits through plenty of carefully regulated demos, I'm used to being a bit guarded because I know I'm party to the business of selling games. But here, listening to Randy talk about "perceived affordance", which is over my head but I don't care, the dynamic is completely different.
I got to see Electronic Arts' Neil Young literally snarl at Call of Duty 2 for being the definitive World War II shooter. "Fuckers," he muttered, not unseriously. I worked up the nerve to go up and shake the hand of Tom Arundel and congratulate him on how much progress Darwinia has made. I walked into a session in which Jessica Mulligan was supposed to be the only woman on the panel and thought, 'Whoa, Jessica is totally hot!', only to discover that she had been replaced and that was someone else up there.
And there were some incredibly moving experiences as well. It's hard to convey how impressed I was by Harvey Smith's inspired Peace Bomb!, or Jonathan Blow's explanation of the final level of Braid, or even the swirl of disaffectation in the rant session. And I've never seen anything quite like Katamari creator Keita Takahashi's wonderfully naive freestyle presentation.
I felt privleged to be at GDC -- after all, I'm not a developer -- and even a little intrusive for taking notes. I sort of blogged the experience for Yahoo games, and I should warn you that my coverage is pretty informal and maybe a bit tedious. So below are links by topic, in chronological order. If you just want the highlights, I'd suggest hitting the ones I've asterisked.
The Guitar Hero that could have been
Sex sex sex
Sony's keynote: Take Me On
*Jonathan Blow's Braid: it's all in the twist
Nintendo keynote: Heart Age
*Burn, baby, burn: yelling 'fire!' in a crowded room of game developers
Waiting for Peter
*Peace Bomb! and Katamari
Roundtable discussions on gay issues and women in gaming
Trawling for Metroid DS players